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Study abroad trip to explore the history and power of South African music

Suzi Mills.jpgBOONE—The history of South Africa is perhaps best told through its music.

Suzi Mills, an associate professor in Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music, plans to share that musical history through a study abroad program May 16-June 7 titled “The Power of Music in South Africa.” Mills coordinates the music education program at Appalachian.

Participants will visit Johannesburg, Durban Empangeni and Capetown through the three-week trip. They will learn South African traditional music, including freedom songs, and explore the role of music in South Africa’s struggle for social justice.

Suzi Mills_t2.jpgSuzi Mills, an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music, will lead a study abroad trip to South Africa this summer to explore the history of South African music. As a music ethnologist, she has studied and collected folk music from Azerbaijan, the British Isles, Canada, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary, Ghana, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Southern Appalachia, and the U.S. Gulf Coast. (Photo by Jane Nicholson)

The trip is open to students regardless of their major, as well as nonstudents. The deadline for registering for the trip is Feb. 13. Additional information is available by contacting Mills at 828-262-6441 or

“Music had a powerful role in apartheid through the Freedom Songs, but now that South Africa is a democratic society and has gotten through what they call ‘the struggle,’ the country is in a different struggle because of HIV/AIDS,” Mills said. “Music is taking on a different role, but is still being sung in the villages and townships.”

Mills became interested in the music of South Africa after hearing recordings by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and seeing news coverage of the 1976 riots in Soweto, South Africa.

While a public school choral director, she included South African Freedom Songs in her school repertoire.  In 2001, she received a fellowship from the Eastman School of Music and Temple University to teach for a semester in a South African primary school.

Mills said South African’s use music as an educational tool, and as an advertising tool to promote the county, a practice that should interest a variety of students, including those in music and the social sciences. “Music is still really powerful and it is still attracting attention, but it has taken on a different role,” she said. “South Africans tell me that they have always used music to confront their issues.”

In addition to the study abroad trip, Mills has received a University Research Council grant to collect South African Freedom Songs and post-apartheid choral music and interview musicians in the country. Since choral music is an aural tradition in the country, there are no written collections of the music performed by South African vocal groups. “This culture is a culture of remembering,” she said.

More information about the study abroad trip is online at